The Witchtide Project: A Dungeons and Dragons Experience

On Monday, I explained the idea behind my six new columns: each of them is built so that they could become their own fully-realized project one day. Of all of them, the Witchtide project has the clearest path to get to that point (well, except Crossroads Conversations, which started past the finish line).

What is the Witchtide Project, anyway?

A New Adventure

I recently discontinued a Dungeons and Dragons campaign and podcast. Witchtide is the successor to that show. Nothing is set in stone, but I do have vague plans to launch a new campaign with a new group, which we would stream, record, and release as a podcast.

As a Dungeon Master, there’s no limit on how much time you can sink into campaign prep. You can make a perfectly fun game in an hour a week, or you can sink an ungodly amount of time into it and create an almost cinematic experience.

Since we’ll be releasing the adventure as a “product”, albeit a free one, I want it to be as polished as possible. My time investment will be closer to the “ungodly” end of the meter. I want to put a lot of work into the project but don’t want it to take away from other projects, like this blog, so I’m going to double dip and turn all that work into content.

Designing an Experience

The Witchtide Project will take you every step of the way as I build a dungeons and dragons campaign from the ground up. This includes the setting, which I already have some ideas for and which should feel at once familiar and unique. It also includes the gameplay. We’ll be using the 5th edition dungeons and dragons rule set, but I’ll be exploring alternate rules and coming up with some house rules of my own to create a very specific experience.

Even if you’ve never played dungeons and dragons and have no interest in it, you should be able to get something out of this column. Dungeons and dragons is about telling a story, but it’s a collaborative story and nobody at the table can guess how it will turn out. Designing a campaign is a bit like writing a novel and a bit like designing a video game, but with a lot of unique challenges and opportunities.

If you’re a creative, and especially if you’re a writer, planning and participating in a role-playing game can teach you a lot. As I go, I’ll talk about my thinking behind each decision, and the experience I’m trying to create for my future players.

And when we get around to actually playing the game, you’ll get to see if any of my decisions were any good!

Name of the Game

Next week we’ll jump right in to fleshing out the setting and making design decisions. For now, I’ll talk about my vision for the game–what I’m aiming for with the decisions I’ll make over the next months, whether I’m ultimately successful or not.

Witchtide is a working title. It came to me randomly and may or may not end up being relevant to anything in the campaign. It does capture the atmosphere I want to create, though: dark, ominous, and vaguely nautical.

The core of Witchtide is the idea that the point is not to “win” but to participate in a story. The gameplay will reflect this. At first glance, some of the rules I come up with may seem limiting or punishing, but only if you go in with the mindset of a gamer trying to beat a level. The best stories are about heroes who suffer and fail on their way to victory, and it can be just as fun to roleplay a character in defeat as in triumph.

The setting will draw on my personal expertise. Mexican culture and history will probably play a large role in the design of the world. Not that I’m an expert on Mexico by any means, but I know enough to create a setting distinct from the standard “Medieval France but with elves”. Beyond that, expect the setting to be on the gritty side of fantasy, influenced by a blend of real-world cultures not usually represented in fantasy, and incorporating more science than usual (I’m already fleshing out a map of how all the different fantasy races evolved from one another and migrated around the world in prehistoric times).

Bringing together setting and gameplay is the thematic element. A lot of the themes will, ideally, arise from the stories the players choose to tell with their characters, I’ll be building the experience with a few ideas in mind. The nature of death will probably be an interesting theme to explore given the setting. If you’ve had a chance to see Coco, you know that Mexican culture has a much more cheerful take on mortality compared with other Western cultures. I’ll probably also loop in an old favorite of mine (one that shows up in everything I make anyway so I might as well put it in now): the absence of good and evil, the idea that there are two–or more–sides to every story.

If any of that piques your interest, check back in a week when we start to build a world in earnest!

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